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Secretary of the Panama- Pacific International 


Copyright, 1917, By Tbs MAOinxAN Compaitt. 

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Held at Native Sons Hall, San Francisco 
July 23, 1915 

The convention was called to order at 8 : 30 p.m. by the Chair- 

The Chairman : Ladies and Gentlemen : this last session of the 
Panama Pacific Historical Congress will be distinguished by the 
reading of a paper on " The American Inter-Oceanic Canal : an 
Historical Sketch of the Canal Idea,'' by Mr. Rudolph J. Taussig, 
Secretary of the Panama Pacific International Exposition. 

Mr. Taussig will tell the story of the idea of making a canal. 
It is practically the same thing as the history of the idea of making 
the Panama Pacific Canal, which opens a new era in the history 
of the Pacific Ocean. 

I have the aid on the platform here of two distinguished dele- 
gates, one from Spain and the other from Japan. During his 
presence at the Congress, by many speeches and in many ways, 
Professor Altamira has endeared himself to those who are responsible 
for this Historical Congress. Professor N. Murakami has, in the 
excellent paper he read today at Palo Alto, shown that the new 
land of Japan is as interested in things of the Pacific Ocean as the 
old land of Spain. To support them two former presidents of 
the American Historical Association, Professor Turner, of Harvard 
University, and Professor Jameson are here present. A little later 
we are to be favored by another former president of the American 
Historical Association, who, while he has written history, has also 
made it, and who has promised to be present shortly to tell us how 
he made the Canal, which Mr. Taussig will trace from its original 

I present to you Mr. Rudolph J. Taussig. 
I 113 


Rudolph J. Taussig 

The task assigned to me by the President of the American 
Historical Association for the Panama Pacific Historical Congress 
of 1915, is perhaps the only one which might possibly lie within 
the power of one who, like myself, is not a trained historian. There 
are no evidences to be weighed — one against the other — nor is 
there any great question to be solved concerning the reliability 
of the sources of information. 

The materials that could possibly be made use of are first, 
the records of voyages made in search of "the secret of the strait" 
which would permit a direct passage of ships from Europe to far 
Cathay by sailing westward, and second, the various schemes 
advanced for making such an artificial strait by the work of man 
in default of a natural one already existing. 

I must however ask your indulgence, as it was by no means 
easy to reduce the great amount of available material to the 
limits of a short paper. 

It took a little over four centuries of search, of diplomacy, and 
of work to present the world with the completed water-way and 
only the merest outline of its historical development can possibly 
be attempted here. The poet's dream of the mingling of the 
waters of the Atlantic and Pacific across any part of the American 
continents from the Straits of Magellan to the Arctic Ocean must 
remain a dream until waters run uphill and cross a range of moun- 
tains or until the mountains themselves are moved away. 

1 Whatever may be " worth while" in this sketch is due to the friendly advice of 
Professor H. Morse Stephens, the kindly assistance of Assistant Curator H. I. 
Priestley of the Bancroft Library, and Assistant Professor Chas. E. Chapman, of 
the University of California, and the courtesies of Librarian Frank B. Graves of 
the Mechanics-Mercantile Library of San Francisco. 



A small water-way between the oceans was established within 
the boundaries of the Republic of Colombia in the state of Choco, 
but it could only be used in the time of heavy rains. The ravine 
of the Raspadura unites the sources of the River San Juan, which 
flows into the Pacific, with one of the tributaries of the River 
Atrato, which flows into the Atlantic. In 1788 the cure of the 
village of Novita employed his parishioners, who were mostly 
Indians and negroes, to dig a small canal in this ravine by means 
of which, when the rains were abundant, canoes loaded with cacao 
could pass from ocean to ocean. Humboldt said that this inter- 
oceanic communication was unknown to the Spaniards in Europe 
and gave the distance from sea to sea as about 300 miles, but 
it was certainly known to them in the first decade of the 19th 
century. Here then is an account of a canal without locks, dug 
between the headwaters of two great rivers which flow in opposite 

Humboldt stated his belief that he was the first to mention it 
in Europe. He said that it might easily be enlarged if other 
available streams were joined to it and that feeding trenches 
might easily be estabUshed in a country like Choco, where it 
rained during the whole year and where thunder was heard every 
day. Continuing he said "that the ministry at Madrid never 
enjoined the Viceroy of New Spain to fill up the ravine of Ras- 
padura or to punish with death those who attempted to reestab- 
lish a canal at Choco, as has been asserted." 

There is also an account of the mingling of the headwaters of 
two rivers on the Isthmus of Panama during the heavy winter 
rains, which is perhaps of equal importance with the mingling of 
the waters of the Mississippi and the St. Lawrence rivers during 
the time of the spring freshets — poetically true but of no prac- 
tical value. 

The publication of the travels of Marco Polo at the end of the 
thirteenth century acquainted Europe with the port of Zaitun, with 
the name of the Great Khan, with the country of Cathay, and with 
the enormous riches of the Orient. The merchant adventurers 
of Venice and of Genoa were eager to open commercial relations 
with the Far East and overland trade routes were established, — 
long in distance and fraught with danger to person and property. 


A shorter way to the Orient was a dream without hope of realiza- 
tion so long as the belief prevailed in Europe that the earth was 
flat, — beginning at the water's edge of the fierce Atlantic and 
ending at the sea beyond Cathay. 

According to an account which has lately been questioned, a 
Florentine astronomer, Paolo Toscanelli, expressed his opinion in 
a letter to the King of Portugal that the earth was round, and in 
1474 sent a copy of the letter to Christopher Columbus. Co- 
lumbus had come to the same conclusion, namely, that by sailing 
westward he would reach the islands and mainland of Japan and 
China, nor did he think that the undertaking would be so difficult 
nor the voyage so long as some supposed. In order to prove his 
conclusion and to present Europe with a solution of the problem 
of a short way to Cathay and its enormous wealth, Columbus 
began his long campaign for the necessary assistance. He was 
finally fitted out by the monarchs of Castile and Aragon for a 
voyage across the unknown sea to India. He never knew that 
he had discovered a new continent and could not understand why 
he could get no information concerning the Great Khan at the 
city of " Guesay," to whom he carried letters from Ferdinand and 
Isabella. While preparing for his fourth and last voyage, he re- 
quested permission to carry with him one or two men versed in 
the Arabic tongue, and the letter from Ferdinand and Isabella 
dated March 14, 1502, granting his request, provided it should 
not detain him too long, is of record. 

In writing to Spain from Jamaica, on July 7, 1503, Columbus 
stated that he was within seven days' journey by land from the 
province of Ciguare, which was but ten days' journey from the 
river Ganges, and that when he was upon the coast of Veragua 
he was relatively in the same position to Ciguare as Tortosa on 
the Mediterranean to Fuente on the Bay of Biscay, or as Pisa on 
the Ligurian sea to Venice on the Adriatic, indicating in this way 
his information concerning the existence of another sea. No 
doubt this but increased his eagerness to find the strait which would 
permit him to reach his destination, although he seems to have 
satisfied himself that it did not exist anywhere within the ter- 
ritory which he himself had visited thus far, that is, from Cape 
Gracias d Dios in Nicaragua to the Gulf of Paria in Venezuela. 


It was ten years later that the sea of which Columbus had been 
told was first seen by Europeans when Balboa led his expedition 
across the Isthmus of Panama in 1513. Balboa had also heard 
of this great sea lying south of his city of Santa Maria de la Anti- 
guedad del Darien on the Gulf of Uraba, and had been warned by 
his friends amongst the natives of the great difficulties attending 
the crossing of the mountains, and the necessity of a large force 
of men to overcome the hostile nations which would bar his 
progress. But the lure of gold and pearls permitted no obstacle 
to stand in the way -of discovery and wealth. Balboa did not long 
enjoy the fruits of his expedition, for he was executed in 1517. 
With the founding of the city of Panama in 1519 even the city 
of Santa Maria, to which he had devoted himself and which was 
the last vestige of the early schemes of colonization of Nicuesa 
and of Hojeda, gradually disappeared. 

Animated by news of the voyages and discoveries of Columbus, 
John Cabot and his son Sebastian undertook to find a way west- 
ward to where the spices grew. Judging from the form of the 
sphere that the voyage would be shorter if they sailed in a north- 
westerly direction they prevailed upon Henry VII of England in 
1497 to provide them with two vessels for their purpose of dis- 
covery. They expected to find Cathay, and from there turn 
toward India. They reached the American continent and sailed, 
perhaps, as far north as 56° latitude and as far south as Florida. 
Failing to solve the secret of the strait, they returned to England. 

The persistence with which this secret (of the strait) was now 
pursued would seem remarkable were it not for the ignorance 
which so long prevailed concerning the geography of America. 
Even as late as 1843 Gen. J. C. Fremont in his report upon the 
exploring expedition to Oregon and North California speaks of 
his search for the Buenaventura River "which," he says, "has 
had a place in so many maps, and countenanced the belief of the 
existence of a great river flowing from the Rocky Mountains to 
the Bay of San Francisco." 

In 1514 the King of Spain directed Juan Diaz de Solis, who was 
sailing for the new world under the King's orders, to find out if 
the country we now call Central America were not an island. 

In 1519 Magellan sailed from Spain in search of the shortest 


way to the Spice Islands, and the straits that bear his name tell 
the story of his success. He was the only one who did find a way 
from the Atlantic to the Pacific without sailing around Cape Horn. 
This however was not particularly satisfactory, as it was too far 
south and the navigation stormy and diflScult. 

In 1521 the Emperor Charles V acknowledged the services of 
Francisco de Garay for having attempted, though unsuccessfully, 
to find the strait and three years later Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon 
was directed to continue the search. 

By 1525 it was generally conceded that there was no passage 
from sea to sea between Florida and the Gulf of Darien (or Uraba), 
and more attention was paid to the latitudes farther north. Este- 
van Gomez in that year announced his ability to find the strait 
north of Florida. He returned to Spain after a voyage of ten 
months, naturally without success, but a misunderstanding of 
words when he arrived spread the report over Europe that the 
straits had been found. He brought some Indian prisoners with 
him who were to be sold as slaves, and due to a confusion of the 
word "esclavos" (slaves) with "clavos" (cloves) the news went 
abroad that he had found a way to the land of spices, and for a 
time considerable credence was given to the rumor. 

About the same time Pedrarias Davila, who had been made 
governor on the Isthmus and who had sent expeditions to explore 
the country in the neighborhood of Lake Nicaragua, where the 
city of Granada was founded in 1523, expressed his conviction 
that there must be some connection between Lake Nicaragua and 
the South Sea, only three leagues away. He was certain that 
this would be found, and the passage from the Atlantic by way of 
the San Juan River completed. 

In 1527 Hernando de la Serna was ordered to explore the Chagres 
River which flows into the Atlantic and the Rio Grande which 
flows into the Pacific not far from the city of Panama. He it 
was who reported that at high tide the waters of the two rivers 
mingled and could be navigated with small boats from sea to sea. 

Cortes after his conquest of Mexico devoted time and energy 
to the exploration of both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, en- 
deavoring to find a way from ocean to ocean. He sent a small 
fleet up the Atlantic coast from Florida and also fitted out several 


expeditions on the Pacific at Tehuantepec. The latter resulted 
in the discovery and exploration of the Gulf of California. 

The Emperor Charles V in 1534 ordered experts to examine 
the land lying between the Chagres River and the South Sea, and 
to report upon the proper means to connect the ocean with the 
river at its head of navigation. They were also to report upon the 
cost of its accomplishment in time, money, and labor. Pascual 
Andajoya, at that time governor of the province, on October 22 
replied to the Emperor's orders to assist in this work, that he 
would do so in the following spring as it was impossible to ac- 
complish anything during the winter. At the same time he asserted 
that no prince no matter how powerful he might be could ac- 
complish the union of the two oceans nor provide means for con- 
necting the ocean with the river, but that in order to maintain a 
road between Nombre de Dios and Panama and to clear the 
Chagres River to the head of navigation, all that would be neces- 
sary would be to provide him with fifty negroes, who would do the 
work and maintain the road at but little cost. 

In 1542 Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed from Navidad and 
sighting the coast of Lower California on July 2 explored the 
coast northward and entered San Diego Bay. Although Cabrillo 
died in January 1543 the voyage of discovery was continued, the 
expedition reaching as high as 44° N. latitude. Naturally no 
strait through the continent was found. 

Gomara, the Spanish historian whose Historia General de las 
Indias first appeared at Saragossa in 1552-3, wrote that the voy- 
age from Spain to the Moluccas by way of the Straits of Magellan 
was long and dangerous. 

Speaking with men well versed in the affairs of the Indies he had 
heard of a good site for a canal, the completion of which though 
costly would not only be advantageous but would bring glory to 
any one who would undertake it and accomplish it. This passage 
would have to be built through Tierra Firme from one ocean to 
the other by one of the four following routes : 

First, by way of the Chagres River, which rises within four 
leagues of Panama, or 

Second, by way of the San Juan River to Lake Nicaragua, which 
is only three or four leagues from the Pacific Ocean, or 


Third, from the River of Vera Cruz to Tehuantepec, or 
Fourth, from the Gulf of Uraba to the Gulf of San Miguel, a 
distance of twenty-five leagues. 

The last two he considered the most difficult. There were lands 
to overcome, he said, but there were hands to do it. The spirit 
would not be wanting where the money could be obtained and the 
Indies where the work was to be done would provide it. If this 
passage were built one third of the distance would be saved and 
for the trade in spices, for the wealth of India, and for a king 
of Spain the work was but a small affair. 

An account is given in Purchas' Pilgrims of a Portuguese named 
Martin Chacke who claimed to have sailed from the East Indies 
to the North Sea through a passage in latitude 59° N. in the year 
1565. During a severe storm his ship was separated from the 
balance of the fleet that he was sailing with, but by finding this 
passage he came to anchor at Lisbon four or five weeks in ad- 
vance of his companions. 

Again came the rumor that in 1556 or 1557 Andres de Urdaneta 
had discovered the passage between the seas and that Salvatierra 
had traced it on a chart. No documentary evidence of this has 
been found. In a later report to the government, Urdaneta wrote 
that news had been received in New Spain of a passage discovered 
by the French, who had entered it by way of the coast of Labrador 
at about 70° N. latitude, thence sailing S.W. to below 50° had 
found an open sea easily navigable to China. Furthermore, said 
he, a passage had been discovered farther south by the same 
explorers, and Spain ought at once to investigate the matter; if 
found true, the entrances ought to be fortified for protection against 
foreign aggression or use. 

In 1590 Padre Jose de Acosta in his Historia Natural y Moral 
de las Indias wrote that there were some who said that the land 
would be submerged if an opening were made between the two 
oceans, as the level of one was lower than the other, and that for 
the same reason the Red Sea had never been connected by canal 
with the waters of the Nile. In his opinion no human power would 
suffice to level the rocks and mountains which God had placed be- 
tween the two oceans in order to withstand the fury of the waves. 
The frequent disasters which befell expeditions through the 


Straits of Magellan and the great cost of that voyage made trans- 
portation across the Isthmus far more desirable. WTiile for this 
purpose Nombre de Dios, the Atlantic terminus of the road to 
Panama, was fortified to protect the road against pirates, the 
Straits of Magellan were forgotten even to the point of doubting 
their existence. 

It may be proper here to mention the story concerning Philip 
II, who is reported to have prohibited further consideration of an 
inter-oceanic canal. A later Spanish writer states that if such an 
order were issued, it was done to prevent so far as possible any 
further aggression upon the part of other nations. An attack upon 
the Spanish possessions would have been made far easier by the 
existence of a canal, which would have opened the way to Peru, 
where otherwise another fleet would have to be created on the 
Pacific by the attacking forces. 

Lucien N. B. Wyse mentions this matter in his book Le Canal 
de Panama, published in 1886. He says that he examined the 
Spanish and Granadan archives, looking in vain for this decree 
supposed to have been issued by Philip II according to Alcedo. 
He thinks however that the confusion arose from a decree issued 
by Philip V in 1719, which threatened with capital punishment 
anyone who should dare to make any further investigations con- 
cerning the junction of the River Atrato with any stream flowing 
into the Pacific Ocean. This was done at the suggestion of the 
governor of New Granada in order to protect the custom-house 
at Carthagena against the activity of smugglers. 

During this time England also, developing her naval power 
and advancing her schemes for colonization and trade, was not 
idle in the search for the secret of the Strait. Her sailors swept 
the seas in their attempts to find it. Towards the end of the six- 
teenth century expeditions under Frobisher and Davis tried to 
find their way through the northern part of the American con- 
tinent and left the names of their commanders on our maps of 
the waters that they explored. 

Lorenzo Ferrer Maldonado was another of those who claimed 
to have found a passage from sea to sea in 1588, the year of the 
Spanish Armada. While his account seems to have been dis- 
credited in his own time, it is stated by Navarrete that two hun- 


dred years later, towards the end of the eighteenth century, con- 
siderable attention was paid to his story and the Spanish govern- 
ment sent the corvettes Descubierta and Atrevida from Acapulco 
to investigate and report upon the Maldonado voyage. 

The voyage of Juan de Fuca is reported by Purchas to have 
been made in 1592. He claimed to have sailed from Mexico up 
the coast of California in search of the reputed straits of Anian 
and the passage to the North Sea. When he arrived in latitude 
47° N. he found a broad inlet between the 47th and 48th parallels 
which he entered and after sailing through it for twenty days, 
came into the Atlantic. Having thus in his opinion accom- 
plished his purpose he returned to Acapulco. The only record 
of his voyage lies in the strait that bears his name, an appella- 
tion of later date than the supposed voyage. 

The right worshipful merchants of the Moscovie and Turkic 
Company of England fitted out two vessels in 1602 under com- 
mand of Captain George Weymouth to discover the northwest 
passage to China. For better success of the voyage this small 
fleet was provided with a great traveller and learned minister who 
had been in Persia and Turkey and was therefore familiar with 
the language and customs of the people whom the expedition was 
intended to visit. After sailing along the coast of Labrador for 
some time they returned to England without having accomplished 
anything. No better success attended the expedition of Master 
John Knight, who was sent out from England by a company of 
merchants in 1606, but returned to England after a fruitless voy- 
age full of hardships and mishaps. 

In reviewing the voyages made in search of the straits by the 
English, Purchas expressed himself as satisfied of its existence. 
The constant great tides in Hudson Bay every twelve hours and 
the increase of those tides whenever strong western winds blew, 
convinced him that the main Western Ocean was not far away. 
"So may all the world," he says, "be in this beholding to us in 
opening a new and large passage, both much nearer and safer and 
far more wholesome and temperate through the continent of 
Virginia and by Fretum Hudson, to all those rich countries bor- 
dering upon the South Sea in the East and West Indies." 


Philip III (1598-1621) was also interested in finding the strait, 
and there is a letter from Pedro de Ledesma on behalf of the King 
to the President of the City of Panama, dated Dec. 31, 1G16, con- 
cerning the necessary steps to be taken to examine the entrance 
supposed to exist by way of the River Darien to the South Sea. 
Upon the same date he also directed the fleet bound for Tierra 
Firme to make the same investigation. 

In 1636 Francisco de Vergara, to whom Spain had granted 
the privilege of exploring the coast of California, transferred his 
right to Esteban Carbonel. The privilege was withdrawn, a 
suit was brought against Carbonel and he was arrested because 
of suspicious circumstances attending his proposed voyage. It 
was learned that he was a Frenchman and had French companions 
with him, some of them from New France, who said that a strait 
through the continent certainly existed. Carbonel had been 
building a very large boat secretly on the Rio Santiago and it 
was thought that he planned to seek the strait, sail to France, 
and thus open to that country a passage to the Spanish posses- 
sions on the Pacific. 

In 1640 Pedro Porter y Casanate presented a statement to the 
Spanish government concerning the advantages to Spain of a 
communication through California between the North and South 
Seas. He recited various voyages made in search of the strait 
and stated that after comparing most of the narratives, he found 
no bearing exact, no distance certain, no latitude established, no 
sounding dependable and no chart correct. These unfavorable 
comments upon the work of previous explorers are criticized by 
Navarrete, who thinks that they were made for the purpose of 
improving Porter's chances of being entrusted with an expedi- 
tion himself. He was successful in this, but his expedition accom- 
plished nothing. 

In the early part of the 17th century Diego de Mercado, by 
birth a Fleming, but for a long time a resident of Guatemala, 
proposed to connect the oceans by a canal from Lake Nicaragua 
to the Gulf of Papagayo. Nothing came of this project, for 
while it was being examined and reports prepared concerning it, 
Mercado died. 

Towards the end of the 17th century an act of the Scottish 


Parliament was passed constituting the "Company of Scotland, 
Trading to Africa and the Indies." William Paterson, the chief 
projector of the Bank of England, was the moving spirit of this 
enterprise, which was popularly known as The Darien Com- 
pany. An expedition was sent out from Leith in July, 1698. 
The opinion seems to prevail that the purpose of this company 
was to connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by a canal in order 
to facilitate the trade of Great Britain with the Orient. I have 
been unable to find a single expression of that purpose; on the 
contrary the purpose seems to have been to establish a colony on 
the Atlantic, then in course of time to establish another on the 
Pacific and to connect these two great emporiums by an over- 
land route. 

"The time and expense," wrote Paterson, "of navigation to 
China, Japan, the Spice Islands and the far greatest part of the 
East Indies will be lessened more than half, and the consumption 
of European commodities and manufactories will soon be more 
than doubled. Trade will increase trade, and money will beget 
money, and the trading world shall need no more to want work 
for their hands, but will rather want hands for their work. Thus, 
this door of the seas, and the key to the universe, with anything 
of a sort of reasonable management, will of course enable its 
proprietors to give laws to both oceans and to become arbitrators 
of the commercial world, without being liable to the fatigues, 
expenses and dangers, or contracting the guilt and blood, of Alex- 
ander and Csesar." 

Two Franciscan friars who explored the solitudes of New Mexico 
in 1777 suggested the possibility of connecting the headwaters of 
the Colorado River, which flows into the Gulf of California, with 
the headwaters of the Rio Grande, which flows into the Gulf of 
Mexico. While the sources of these rivers may not be many miles 
apart, a glance at the map will sufiice to show the utter impos- 
sibility of realizing such a dream. 

An idea with some possibility of fulfilment was the plan ad- 
vanced by the Biscayan pilot Goyeneche, who proposed to connect 
the Bay of Cupica with one of the branches of the Atrato. 

A great many other attempts were made to find the secret of 
the straits, besides those here related, but sufficient account has 


been given of the continuous efforts made for several hundred years 
to find it. 

From the Arctic Ocean to the Straits of Magellan no tempting 
stream that poured its waters into either ocean was neglected ; 
no bay, no inlet failed to receive the careful examination of the 
explorer; no dream too wild but found its supporters — but 
all to no purpose. The fact remained that there was no 
open way from ocean to ocean, and that being established be- 
yond doubt, former plans of a canal were revived and new ones 

About one hundred years ago nine different locations for an in- 
ter-oceanic canal had been thought of, discussed, or examined, the 
number having been increased by five since the time of Gomara, 
two hundred and fifty years before. They are given by Hum- 
boldt in his Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain and 
copied in Thompson's translation of Alcedo's Historical Dic- 
tionary as follows: 

1. By connecting the headwaters of the Colmnbia and Peace 
rivers in what is now the Dominion of Canada. 

2. By connecting the headwaters of the Colorado River with 
the Rfo Grande. 

3. By connecting the River Coatzacoalcos (Huasacualco) 
with the Gulf of Tehuantepec. 

4. By way of the San Juan River to Lake Nicaragua, thence by 
cutting a canal to the Pacific Ocean. 

5. By way of the Chagres River to Panama. 

6. The project of the Biscayan pilot Goyeneche to connect 
the Bay of Cupica with the River Naipi, a branch of the Atrato. 

7. The development of the Canal de la Raspadura, which 
connects the Atrato with the River San Juan. 

8. The Gulf of St. George on the Atlantic side of Patagonia was 
supposed to enter so far into the interior of the country as to 
communicate with some arm of the sea entering from the west. 

Humboldt spoke also of a ninth point at which there might be 
a communication between the two seas by way of the Grand Para 
River in Brazil, but went on to say that "the height of the Cor- 
dillera and the nature of the ground, render the execution of a 
canal impossible." 


In a later work he reduced the number of possibilities to five, 
namely : 

The Isthmus of Tehuantepec 

The Isthmus of Nicaragua 

The Isthmus of Panama 

The Isthmus of Darien, or Cupica 

The Canal of Raspadura, 
all placed at the center of the New Continent at an equal distance 
from Cape Horn and the northwest coast. 

In speaking of the Isthmus of Panama he quoted the assertion 
of a traveller that the hills that compose the central chain of the 
isthmus are separated from each other by valleys " which leave 
a free course to the passage of waters." Humboldt therefore 
concluded that the research of engineers charged to explore those 
countries should be principally directed to the discovery of the 
transversal valleys. It is of interest to note that he said " I shall 
abstain from discussing the question whether this ground . should 
form a separate republic by the name of Junxtiana, dependent on 
the federation of the United States." 

J. P. Eckermann, in his " Conversations with Goethe," writes that 
while at table on February 21, 1827, Goethe spoke a great deal 
about Alexander von Humboldt, whose book relating to Cuba 
and Colombia he had begun to read. He seemed especially in- 
terested in the project of a canal through the Isthmus of Panama. 
"Humboldt" said Goethe "has indicated several other places, 
which, by using the rivers flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, could 
be of greater advantage for a canal than Panama. All this must 
be left for the future and for some great enterprising genius. This 
much however is certain, if a canal could be built which would 
permit the passage of ships of all sizes from ocean to ocean, the 
entire world, both civilized and uncivilized, would reap countless 
benefits. But it would surprise me if the United States would 
miss the opportunity of getting such a work into their own hands. 
The westward tendency of this young nation will in the course of 
thirty or forty years have established it beyond the Rockies. New 
trading centers will spring up in the safe and roomy harbors on 
the Pacific coast for developing commercial relations with China 
and the East Indies. In that event it will not only be desirable 


but also necessary that both merchant vessels and men of war 
should have a quicker connection between the Atlantic and Pacific 
than is possible by a voyage around Cape Horn. I therefore re- 
peat that it is absolutely necessary for the United States to build 
the inter-oceanic canal and I am sure that she will do so. 

" I would like to live to see this, but I will not, though it would 
be worth while to bear life for fifty years longer for this purpose." 

During the first quarter of the nineteenth century the Spanish 
colonies on the mainland of North and South America declared 
themselves free and became independent states. Early in their 
separate political existence they turned their attention to the 
construction of an inter-oceanic canal. All the available routes 
were within their territory, but it was recognized that they would 
be unable either to construct or protect a canal without the help 
of some more powerful nation or nations. 

In 1880 President Hayes expressed the opinion that the coast 
line of the canal should be "considered a part of the coast-line 
of the United States" and that it should be under our control. 
Until that time the policy had been rather in favor of a canal 
open to the world upon condition of strict neutrality, and it is per- 
haps true that all other problems in regard to the canal would have 
been solved and its actual construction would have been completed 
long ago had it not been for difficulties and complications arising 
out of the questions of its status in international law. 

Bolivar summoned a Congress of American Republics to meet 
at Panama in 1826, at which the question of the construction of a 
ship canal was to be one of the subjects of discussion. In his 
instructions to the U. S. Commissioners to that Congress concern- 
ing the diplomatic status of the canal, Mr. Clay said, " If the work 
should ever be executed so as to admit of the passage of sea ves- 
sels from ocean to ocean, the benefits of it ought not to be exclu- 
sively appropriated to any one nation, but should be extended 
to all parts of the globe upon the payment of a just compensation 
or reasonable tolls." 

Owing to the delay in the appointment of the Commissioners 
they did not reach Panama until after the Congress had adjourned 
and it never again re-assembled. 

In 1835 a resolution was adopted by the Senate of the United 


States calling upon the President to open negotiations with the 
governments of other nations and especially those of Central 
America and New Granada for the protection of those who n^ight 
undertake the construction of a canal across the Isthnjus and 
for the purpose of securing forever the free and equal right of 
navigating such canal to all nations upon payment of reasonable 

In 1839 the House of Representatives adopted a resolution re- 
questing the President to consider the expediency of negotiating 
with other nations for the purpose of ascertaining the practicabil- 
ity of effecting a communication between the Atlantic and Pacific 
by the construction of a ship canal and for the free and equal 
right of navigating it to all nations. Neither of these resolutions 
obtained any practical result, but that of the House of Represent- 
atives seems to be the first suggestion of the construction of an in- 
ter-oceanic canal by the American government. 

In 1845-46 Prince Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, while yet a po- 
litical prisoner in France, secured a concession from the govern- 
ment of Nicaragua to organize a company for the construction of a 
canal by way of the San Juan River and the two lakes to Realejo, 
to be called "Le Canal Napoleon de Nicarague." After 
his escape to London he published a pamphlet entitled The 
Canal of Nicaragua or a Project for the Junction of the Atlantic 
and Pacific Oceans by means of a Canal. In this he said : — 
"There exists in the New World a state as admirably situated as 
Constantinople, and we must say up to this time as uselessly 
occupied. We allude to the state of Nicaragua. As Constan- 
tinople is the centre of the ancient world, so is the town of Leon 
the centre of the new, and if the tongue of land which separates 
its two lakes from the Pacific Ocean were cut through, she would 
command by virtue of her central position the entire coast 
of North and South America. The state of Nicaragua can be- 
come, better than Constantinople, the necessary route of the 
great commerce of the world, and is destined to attain an extraor- 
dinary degree of prosperity and grandeur. France, England and 
Holland have a great commercial interest in the establishment of 
a communication between the two oceans, but England has, more 
than the other powers, a political interest in the execution of this 


project. England will see with pleasure, Central America be- 
coming a powerful and flourishing state, which will establish a 
balance of power by creating in Spanish America a new centre of 
active enterprise, powerful enough to give rise to a feeling of 
nationality, and to prevent, by backing Mexico, any further en- 
croachments from the North." 

Later developments in France, which made Louis Napoleon 
Emperor of the French, ended his activities in this connection for 
the time. It has never been known how far his schemes had pro- 
gressed, but it has been reported that the necessary funds were 
assured and the arrangements for commencing the work were in 
progress, and that it was the English operations in Central America 
in connection with the Napoleonic scheme which aroused the in- 
dignation of this country and eventually led to the Clayton-Bulwer 

In December, 1846, a treaty between the United States and New 
Granada was signed at Bogota and ratified by both governments 
two years later. One of its articles guaranteed to the United 
States that "the right of way or transit across the Isthmus of 
Panama, upon any modes of communication that now exist or 
that may hereafter be constructed, shall be open and free to the 
government and citizens of the United States," for the transpor- 
tation of all articles of lawful commerce upon the same terms as 
to the citizens of New Granada. In return the United States 
guaranteed to New Granada the perfect neutrality of the Isthmus 
and also " the rights of sovereignty and property which New Gra- 
nada has and possesses over the said territory." No notice of the 
termination of this treaty was ever given by either party thereto. 

The acquisition of California and the discovery of gold there 
made the subject of inter-oceanic communication of greater im- 
portance than ever to the United States. Overland routes by the 
Isthmus of Panama and across the Isthmus of Nicaragua were 
opened to take care of the large emigration to the Pacific Coast. 

This led to the construction of the Panama Railroad. A contract 
was entered into by a party of Americans with the Government 
of New Granada for the exclusive privilege of constructing it 
across the Isthmus of Panama, and two ports, one on the Atlantic 
and the other on the Pacific, were to be free ports. A charter was 


granted by the Legislature of the State of New York for the 
formation of a stock company under which one million dollars 
of stock was subscribed. The work was commenced in May 
1850, and the last rail was laid at midnight on January 27, 1855, a 
locomotive passing from ocean to ocean on the following day. 
The construction account was not closed until January 1859, at 
which time the entire cost of the road was shown to have been 
$8,000,000, and it was doing a profitable business. An interesting 
report concerning the road states that in 1860 only one-fifteenth 
of its freighting business was due to the California trade, the re- 
maining f ourteen-fif teenths consisting mainly of shipments between 
the United States and England, and Central and South America. 
A few years after the ratification of the treaty between the United 
States and New Granada, under which this road was built, ne- 
gotiations between England and the United States culminated in 
the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty. It was signed at Washington, April 
19, 1850, and ratifications were exchanged on July 4th of the same 
year. Secretary Blaine, speaking of it in 1881, described it as 
"misunderstandingly entered into, imperfectly comprehended, 
contradictorily interpreted, and mutually vexatious." It owed 
its origin to the fear of English aggression and was hastened by 
Great Britain's occupation, under assumption of a protectorate, 
of the territory at the mouth of the San Juan River. The re- 
ports concerning the difficulties to be encountered in the construc- 
tion of a canal across the Isthmus of Panama had led to a more 
careful consideration of the Nicaragua Canal, of which the San 
Juan River formed the Atlantic entrance. Representatives of 
the United States negotiated treaties with Nicaragua and Hon- 
duras, which, although never ratified, were used in persuading 
England to sign the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty. The English gov- 
ernment was informed that while the United States " aimed at no 
exclusive privilege for themselves, they could never consent to see 
so important a communication fall under the exclusive control 
of any other great commercial power." 

Article VIII of the treaty provides that " the governments of the 
United States and Great Britain having not only desired, in enter- 
ing into this convention, to accomplish a particular object, but 
also to establish a general principle ; they hereby agree to extend 


their protection, by treaty stipulations, to any other practical 
communications, whether by canal or railway, across the isthmus 
which connects North and South America, and especially to the 
inter-oceanic communications should the same prove to be prac- 
ticable, whether by canal or railway, which are now proposed to 
be established by the way of Tehuantepec or Panama." 

Many insisted that by entering into this treaty the United States 
had abandoned the Monroe Doctrine, having yielded equal rights 
to a foreign country in regard to an American project. The treaty 
had hardly been ratified when misunderstandings arose concern- 
ing the construction to be placed on some of its stipulations, and 
several efforts were made towards its abrogation, but England re- 
mained tenacious of the acquired rights to a share in the protec- 
torate over any canal that might be built. In 1860 President 
Buchanan in his annual message said: "The discordant con- 
structions of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty between the two 
governments, which at different periods of the discussion bore a 
threatening aspect, have resulted in a final settlement entirely 
satisfactory to this government," again indicating by this dec- 
laration that the United States made no claim to the sole control 
of the inter-oceanic canal, but rather favored the policy of having 
other nations join with them in guaranteeing its neutrality. 

A few words ought here be said concerning the "Isthmus of 
Darien Ship Canal" which was strongly urged upon England by 
Dr. Edward Cullen in 1851, after he had crossed the Isthmus 
several times between Caledonia Bay and the Gulf of San Miguel, 
a distance of thirty-nine miles. By utilizing the Savana River, 
he claimed that the cut to be made would cross a country pre- 
senting but a single ridge of low elevation and would not exceed 
twenty-five miles in length. He said that "The canal, to be on 
a scale of grandeur commensurate with its important uses, should 
be cut sufficiently deep to allow the tide of the Pacific to flow 
right through it across to the Atlantic ; so that ships bound from 
the Pacific to the Atlantic would pass with the flood and those 
from the Atlantic to the Pacific with the ebb tide of the latter." 
The cost of building the canal was estimated at £7,000,000 and 
"The Atlantic and Pacific Junction Company" was formed, its 
capital being fixed at £15,000,000. Dr. Cullen stated that the 


government of New Granada had conceded, by decree of Con- 
gress, Bogota, June 1, 1852, the exclusive privilege of cutting a 
ship canal across the Isthmus of Darien and had granted 200,000 
acres of land, besides those necessary for the canal and its works, 
to himself and his associates. It was expected that in accordance 
with the provisions of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, Great Britain 
and the United States would extend their joint protection to any 
company undertaking the construction of this canal. The Com- 
pany was provisionally registered and was to be incorporated by 
royal charter or act of parliament, limiting the liability of the 
stockholders. The short account here given of Dr. CuUen's efforts 
in behalf of the Darien ship canal was obtained from a book pub- 
lished by him in London in 1853. Towards the end of that year 
the United States government sent Lieut. Isaac C. Strain to 
Caledonia Bay with a surveying party to examine the plan. He 
reported it impracticable, as he found mountains from 1000 to 
3500 feet high in the way of the canal, and with this the project of 
Dr. CuUen was abandoned. 

In 1858 Louis Napoleon, now Emperor of the French, renewed 
his activities in connection with the canal project. A company 
was organized under his protection and an engineering party sent 
to Nicaragua after obtaining contracts both from Costa Rica 
and Nicaragua, but the enterprise collapsed for want of funds. 
Ten years later Napoleon again revived his project, but the out- 
break of the Franco-German war ended further consideration of 
the matter. 

After the close of the Civil War in the United States, our 
government again turned its attention to the inter-oceanic canal, 
and in 1866 the Senate passed a resolution requesting the Secre- 
tary of the Navy to furnish information concerning the various 
proposed lines for inter-oceanic canals and railroads. Rear-Ad- 
miral Davis in reply submitted a report giving the desired in- 
formation and also set forth the insufficiency of available data. 
About the same time the United States began its efforts for the 
abrogation of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty. Mr. Seward, writing 
to the American representative in London, made this statement : 
— " At the time the treaty was concluded there was every pros- 
pect that work would not only soon be begun, but that it would be 


carried to a successful conclusion. For reasons, however, which 
it is not necessary to specify, it never was even commenced, and 
at present there does not appear to be a likelihood of its being 

During President Grant's administration, thorough surveys 
were made of the various canal projects and considerable valuable 
information was obtained. Grant enunciated the doctrine of " an 
American canal under American control." 

In 1879 a call was issued for a conference on the subject of an 
inter-oceanic canal at Paris, which resulted in the organization of 
a French construction company under the presidency of Ferdi- 
nand de Lesseps. The name of De Lesseps was considered a 
sufficient guarantee for the quick and successful construction of 
the canal and it stirred up considerable feeling in the United States. 
It was announced by President Hayes that "the policy of this 
country is a canal under American control." His successor. 
President Garfield, in his inaugural address expressed the same 
views, saying that it is " the right and duty of the United States to 
assert and maintain such supervision and authority over any inter- 
oceanic canal across the isthmus as will protect our national 
interests." The Secretary of State, Mr. Blaine, advised the Amer- 
ican representatives in Europe that this policy was " nothing more 
than the pronounced adherence of the United States to principles 
long since enunciated by the highest authority of the government." 
England however maintained her position of reliance upon the 
terms of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty and would consent to no 

About this time an entirely new idea was advanced by Captain 
James B. Eads, who had made a great reputation as an engineer 
by building a system of jetties at the mouth of the Mississippi 
River, deepening its entrance sufficiently for navigation. He 
proposed to build a railroad across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec 
which would carry the largest ships fully laden upon its cars from 
ocean to ocean. He secured a concession for its construction 
from the Mexican government but nothing ever came of it. 

On February 1, 1881, the Universal Inter-oceanic Canal Com- 
pany, which had been organized by De Lesseps, commenced its 
work. The Panama route had been decided upon and the plans for 


a tide-level canal perfected. Its cost was estimated at $132,000,000. 
From the beginning extravagance and corruption reigned supreme. 
All kinds of merchandise, necessary and unnecessary, were pur- 
chased at enormous prices. Willis Fletcher Johnson, in his book, 
Four Centuries of the Panama Canal, says: "In one place I 
saw where there had been stored a huge consignment of snow- 
shovels, — thousands of them. In another place there had been 
received and stored some 15,000 kerosene torches, such as are 
used in torchlight processions. The manufacturers got rid of 
surplus, out-of-date and almost worthless stock, at top prices. 
The purchasing agents got large commissions." The same ex- 
travagance prevailed in the construction department. Writing 
in October, 1885, Wyse says that of the sixteen or seventeen mil- 
lions of cubic metres excavated, but twelve millions were properly 
done upon the canal itself. Then there is an account of millions 
spent upon hospitals, stables, oflBce buildings, roads, etc., which 
cost the stockholders three times as much as they did the builders. 
There could be but one result. After seven years, in 1888, the 
company had spent $400,000,000, not half of the work had been 
done, and the company was bankrupt. 

On October 21, 1893, the New Panama Canal Company was 
organized. It expected to complete the canal by an additional 
expenditure of $180,000,000, and the work proceeded. 

Meanwhile the United States had kept a jealous eye upon the 
proceedings at Panama. During President Arthur's adminis- 
tration. Secretary Frelinghuysen had negotiated a treaty with 
Nicaragua for the construction of a canal through her territory. 
This treaty was still before the Senate when President Cleveland 
came into office and withdrew it. In his message to Congress on 
December 8, 1885, he said: "Whatever highway may be con- 
structed across the barrier dividing the two great maritime areas 
of the world, must be for the world's benefit, a trust for mankind, 
to be removed from the chance of domination by any single power, 
nor become a point of invitation for hostilities or a prize for war- 
like ambition." This was a distinct reaffirmation of the Clay- 
ton-Bulwer Treaty, which his predecessors had endeavored to 

In 1890 the Maritime Canal Company, an American corporation. 


began work at Greytown. After three years they had spent their 
entire capital of $0,000,000, and owing to the panic of 1893 in the 
United States, no further money could be raised for it, in spite of 
the fact that the Nicaragua route seems always to have been the 
popular one in this country. An effort was made to have the 
United States government take up the project, and the matter 
was still pending when war broke out between Spain and the 
United States in 1898. Then came the spectacular voyage of 
the Oregon from San Francisco to the West Indies. An inter- 
oceanic canal had now become a public demand and the United 
States must build it. In 1899 the President was authorized to 
send a commission to investigate both the Panama and Nicaragua 
routes. This commission made its report in December 1900, 
stating that while the cost of the canal at Panama would be less, 
the Colombian government "is not free to grant the necessary 
rights to the United States, except upon condition that an agree- 
ment be reached with the New Panama Canal Company. The 
commission believes that such agreement is impracticable." 
The report further stated that in its opinion "the most practicable 
and feasible route for an isthmian canal to be under the control, 
management and ownership of the United States is that known 
as the Nicaragua route." 

Hardly had this report been made, when the commission began 
its negotiations with the French Company at Panama, which had 
estimated the value of its property at $109,000,000, while the 
commission thought that the United States should not pay more 
than $40,000,000 for it. The French Company finally offered 
its property at that price in January 1902, and the commission 
promptly reversed its recommendation and urged the adoption of 
the Panama route. 

Happily also the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty was superseded by the 
Hay-Pauncefote Treaty, which was ratified by the United States 
Senate on December 16, 1901, thus ending a long controversy. 
It granted to the United States the right to construct the canal 
and also " the exclusive right of providing for the regulation and 
management of the canal." 

In June, 1902, the so-called Spooner Bill was approved, and 
President Roosevelt was authorized to purchase the rights of the 


French Company and to proceed with the work at Panama, under 
certain conditions to be granted by Colombia. Should he be un- 
able to obtain the control and the rights desired from Colombia, 
he was authorized after negotiating treaties with Costa Rica and 
Nicaragua upon terms that he might consider reasonable, for the 
construction, perpetual maintenance, operation and protection of a 
canal,*' to proceed with the construction of the Nicaragua Canal. 

Then came the vexatious negotiations with Colombia, which 
finally resulted in the establishment of the Republic of Panama, 
with which the United States proceeded to make satisfactory 
treaties concerning the canal. 

The story of its construction must be an interesting one, but it 
is entirely separate and apart from its historical development, 
which I have endeavored to present to you. We are here to-day 
to celebrate its completion, and it will be one of the most interest- 
ing studies of the years to come to watch its effect upon the trade 
of the entire world. What will be the effect of the closer relations 
of Europe with the lands of the Pacific, and what effect will they 
in turn have upon Europe ? We can only hope that the same gen- 
eral benefit to mankind which has always resulted from bringing 
together more closely the peoples of the world, will also prove true 
in this instance, where they have been brought closer together by 
the Panama Canal. 

The Chairman: Ladies and Gentlemen of the Panama Pacific 
Historical Congress: When the idea of this Congress was first 
started, it was speedily agreed upon by the members having charge 
of the programme, that there should be a series of papers on the his- 
tory of the Pacific Ocean, culminating in a paper upon the history 
of the Panama Canal Idea. That paper, as written by Mr. 
Rudolph J. Taussig, you have just heard, and that paper will be 
published in the memorial volume of this historical Congress; 
but it is to me the culminating point of this Congress that I should 
be able to call upon, in succession to the reader of the paper on the 
" Historical Sketch of the Canal Idea," the man who removed it 
from the realm of ideas. 

I present to you Mr. Theodore Roosevelt, a former president of 
the American Historical Association. 

I ^am